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GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski Offers First Public Criticism of Impeachment Strategy; Trump Rants About Impeachment, Calls Nancy Pelosi "Crazy"; Benjamin Netanyahu Faces Party Leadership Challenge; No Sign of North Korea's "Gift" to U.S.; Boeing Trying to Win Back Passengers' Trust. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 26, 2019 - 04:00   ET



ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: The first crack for the GOP. Why one moderate senator is calling out Mitch McConnell over impeachment.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: It's mild now. But snow is on the way. Whose trip home from the holidays could get messy?

KOSIK: I'm guilty of it. We all gorged for Christmas and Hanukkah. Now new research suggests if you ate quickly, it could help you live longer.

PHILLIP: And an autistic boy was turned away by Santa. But the local fire department made sure it was a Christmas he won't forget.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Abby Phillip.

KOSIK: Good morning.

PHILLIP: Good morning.

KOSIK: I'm Alison Kosik. It's Thursday, December 26th. Hope you all enjoyed your holiday. Merry Christmas. It is 4:00 a.m. in New York.

Thirty-nine days to the Iowa caucuses. It's just one senator but it's the first crack in the GOP, ahead of President Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski telling an Anchorage TV station she was disturbed when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said the verdict was a done deal. Senators are sworn to be impartial jurors. But McConnell has publicly said there was zero chance the president would be removed from office.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Everything I do during those, I'm coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PHILLIP: Here's how Senator Murkowski responded.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): In fairness, when I heard that, I was disturbed. To me, it means that we have to take that step back from being hand-in-glove with the defense. Any way we move forward, I think it's going to be important that, at a minimum, the process that the Senate uses is one that is fair and full.


PHILLIP: Now, this doesn't necessarily mean the president is more likely to be removed from office. It will take 20 Republican senators for that to happen. But only four Republicans are needed to change the rules of the trial process, like, for example, calling witnesses or demanding documents as the Democrats want.

KOSIK: Murkowski is one of several senators to watch. She is among a group of senators that have either been critical of the president, are retiring or are moderates facing a tough re-election. Republican sources say Senator McConnell is open to going to the floor without Chuck Schumer's support on ground rules for a trial. His preference is to cut a deal with the Democratic leader.

PHILLIP: The Republican consensus appears to be that opening statements should come first before any decisions are made on documents and witnesses. Republicans also want the articles of impeachment to be delivered from the House first. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been holding them until she receives assurances that there will be a fair trial in the Senate.

President Trump is leaning in to the holiday spirit with an eye on politics. The Trump re-election campaign has launched its Web site with the goal of arming the president's supporters to, quote, "win the argument with friends, liberal friends, relatives and they encounter during the holidays."

The president also spent part of Christmas railing against the impeachment and crazy, his words, Nancy Pelosi. That's quite a contrast to his holiday message to the nation.

CNN's Boris Sanchez who is traveling with the president has more from West Palm Beach.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Abby and Alison, President Trump with a message of unity this Christmas. The president calling for Americans to look for deeper understanding and respect. The president saying that Americans should exemplify the teachings of Jesus Christ. Here's more of what he said alongside the first lady, Melania.


MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: The president and I would like to wish each and every American a very merry Christmas. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At this sacred time of

year, Christians celebrate the birth of our lord and savior Jesus Christ, and rejoice in his love for every person.


SANCHEZ: So, quite an interesting message coming from President Trump on Christmas Day. Notably, this is coming one day after the president went on a rant about impeachment, blasting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.


TRUMP: She hates the Republican Party. She hates all of the people that voted for me and the Republican Party.


SANCHEZ: Now we should point out President Trump was asked about Nancy Pelosi as he returned from church to a Christmas Eve dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Reporters asking if the president prayed for the House speaker.


This coming after the president criticized and mocked Pelosi for saying that she prays for the president, for his health and for his success. The president refusing to answer the question, except, Abby and Alison, he said we're going to have a great year.

KOSIK: OK, Boris Sanchez, thanks.

It's looking like a mixed bag for the post-Christmas forecast. Much warmer in the east and snow outside Los Angeles. Interstate 5 was closed overnight at the Grapevine Pass to help stuck vehicles. Travel delays are expected out west. And that same system could be a big snowmaker in the central U.S.

Here's meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.


Travel weather across the country here today looking pretty good across parts of the south. Temps running 15, to some areas up to 30 degrees above average, even around the Midwest. In Chicago, temperatures about 30 degrees above average. But it is across the southwest. That's where the active weather is in place.

In fact, winter weather advisories across parts of Southern California, down to as low as 2500 feet. That's where you'll begin to see some snowfall mixed in and in some cases, as much as a half a foot of accumulation is possible there in the higher elevations of Southern California.

But notice this. You get up in towards the areas of the Midwest, winter weather advisories in place. And as all of this moisture eventually ends up across that region by later in the week and this weekend, if you're waiting to travel back, say on Friday into Saturday, it could be a mess across portions of the Dakotas and the Upper Midwest and certainly in the Intermountain West as well.

But 60 degrees, that is what we're aiming for in Chicago this afternoon. The average closer to 30 degrees. Down in the south, also on the milder side. But looking ahead into early next week and, of course, into New Year's Eve, big-time cold air across parts of the Midwest. Los Angeles, you're out of the woods, enjoying temps generally into the 60s. Going into next week, generally dry weather across the board -- guys.

PHILLIP: Thanks, Pedram.

It's a pivotal day for Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister who faces a major challenge from within his own Likud Party. His first serious leadership challenge in over a decade. Ahead of the vote, he is promising supporters that he can convince President Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and all of the settlements on the West Bank.

Netanyahu was rushed off the stage at a campaign event last night after a rocket was fired from Gaza into southern Israel. It's almost identical to what happened just before the elections in September.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is live in Jerusalem.

Oren, is there a real possibility that Netanyahu could actually lose this challenge?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not impossible but it's not considered likely at this point, according to political analysts here. That being said, the image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being rushed off stage at a campaign event in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon is certainly not a good look for the prime minister one day before this critical vote.

And that's not even the biggest challenge he faces. At this point Netanyahu faces criminal indictment on charges of bribery and fraud and breach of trust in three separate corruption investigations. He has failed to form a government twice and polls indicate that if he leaves the Likud Party, he may well fail again. Yet despite all of that, he is the frontrunner against 53-year-old Gideon Sa'ar, a hard- line right-wing politician, a former minister of Education, who has said he will succeed where Netanyahu has failed.

He will bring in more right-wing votes, break the political deadlock and form a government with Likud at its head. That being said again political analysts saying Netanyahu is the heavy favorite here but winning isn't enough here. Netanyahu has won the previous few votes here with something like 75 percent or 80 percent of the vote. And he wants to do that again. That would indicate that he's in charge of his own Likud Party and would be the Likud candidate in the elections in March. If he wins by narrow margin, it could well indicate that his control of his own party, his influence, is slipping and moving in a different direction. Abby, of course, if the unlikely happens, if Netanyahu loses this

election, it could effectively be the end of Netanyahu as prime minister after those elections in March.

PHILLIP: It's a pivotal time. Thank you. We'll be watching, Oren.

KOSIK: All right, I think we can all relate to this because it's happened to all of us at some point. You open a gift that doesn't quite fit or it's just not what you wanted. The National Retail Federation or Foundation found that 55 percent of shoppers will return or exchange any unwanted gifts after receiving them.

So here's what you need to know to make returns a little easier. Don't remove the packaging, especially for electronics. You may get hit with a restocking fee if packaging isn't intact. Also, keep your gift receipts. Some stores won't let you return a gift without one. Others may give you a store credit. Check return policies in store and online. Many retailers actually extend their deadlines until late January during the holidays. So that works in your favor. Last, make sure you have I.D. Some stores use computerized return authorization systems to detect abuse.

UPS has named January 2nd as the biggest return day of the year. So you may want to wait until next weekend to head to the mall.


PHILLIP: OK. So if you ate too much on Christmas, like I did, here's a little advice for getting back on track in the New Year. It turns out that abstaining from food for 16 to 18 hours could be key to living longer. A review of past studies in "The New England Journal of Medicine" suggests that intermittent fasting, which is when you limit your eating to just six to eight hours a day can reduce blood pressure and help with weight loss.

The report functions as a road map of sorts for treating obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and the obvious catch for most Americans is the norm is three meals a day plus snacks. So physicians are less inclined to use fasting as a solution to a broad range of health conditions.

KOSIK: Of course I saw that story right after I ate huge last night, and I thought, there's just no way I could eat -- I could go without food for 18 hours. I mean, what about you?

PHILLIP: I mean, I tried it. It's hard. But yes, I've done it.

KOSIK: You've actually done that?

PHILLIP: I've done it.

KOSIK: That's how you get your slim figure. OK, that's the secret here.

PHILLIP: But it only lasted a few weeks. I can't make it that much longer. KOSIK: I'm impressed you actually did it. OK.

Well, no Christmas gift from North Korea yet. Now, China is stepping in, hoping to get both sides back to the table. CNN is live in Seoul.



TRUMP: We'll see what happens. We'll -- let's see. Maybe it's a nice present. Maybe it's a present where he sends me a beautiful vase, as opposed to a missile test.


PHILLIP: Well, as you can imagine, it's not likely that Kim Jong-un will be sending President Trump a vase or any other kind of beautiful gift for the holidays. The North Korean leader has threatened the U.S. with a Christmas gift but now Christmas has passed and there is still no surprise from Pyongyang. So the world waits as North Korea ramps up warning signs.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live in Seoul.

Paula, is this just more bluster from the North Korean regime? Or does it signal anything more significant?


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Abby, there's a number of deadlines that North Korea has mentioned. They did say that there could be potentially this Christmas gift, of course as you say, Christmas Day itself is over here. But we also know that they've given this year-end deadline for the U.S. to change this attitude, to come up with some concessions, or it would take a new path.

So we are looking towards the end of the year. We're looking towards the New Year address from Kim Jong-un, which will be key in putting forward this policy for North Korea for the next year. And we are waiting for this significant meeting, as well. The plenum in North Korea, which we're hearing will happen towards the end of this month. So there's a number of things that could still happen. We do still have those satellite images showing that there is movement at a number of sites within North Korea.

And we understand from an administration official telling CNN that it does appear as though there are preparations underway for either an engine test or some other kind of component for its missile program. So at this point, there are many who are not surprised that nothing happened on Christmas Day. But it does not mean that nothing is going to happen. Of course the question still is, what will it be?

And China is stepping into this as well now. We've heard from Wang Yi, the Foreign minister in China, speaking to state-run media, saying that the U.S. has to take concrete steps towards North Korea. Also saying that the legitimate concerns of North Korea have not yet been seriously addressed by Washington -- Abby.

PHILLIP: Thanks, Paula. It's been a rollercoaster ride on this story from North Korea.

KOSIK: A Christmas fire breaks out in a historic Chilean port city, leaving 200 families homeless over the holiday. Hundreds of firefighters struggled to control the inferno which was fueled by dry weather and strong winds. Military units and helicopters were deployed to help bottle the flames and residents were evacuated. Government officials say evidence shows the fires were started intentionally.

PHILLIP: A new video shows sheer chaos when a crane collapses onto a cargo vessel off of Ecuador's Galapagos Islands. Emergency teams are now trying to contain a 600-gallon oil spill and conservation crews are scrambling to protect some of the most unique ecosystems on the planet. The area is home to many species that cannot be found anywhere else.

KOSIK: Well, that video is incredible.

Two women say Frontier Airlines failed to help after they were sexually assaulted on separate flights. What the airline is saying, next.



KOSIK: Another blow for embattled Boeing. In the last two weeks alone, Boeing has forced out its CEO and decided to halt production on the 737 Max. Now, we're learning Boeing has been asking thousands of passengers if they're too afraid to fly on the 737 Max after two deadly crashes. The results are not reassuring.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich has more.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Abby and Alison. Yes, Boeing has been doing damage control behind the scenes after these two horrific crashes involving their 737 Max jets. Now, according to documents obtained by "The New York Times," Boeing has been surveying thousands of customers around the world since May about whether they'd feel safe flying on the Max once it's back in service.

Earlier this month, 40 percent of passengers told the company they would not be willing to fly on the Max and that is unchanged from October. What these documents obtained by "The New York Times" reveal is the uphill battle Boeing knows it has with passengers as the company tries to regain their trust.

Boeing is also reaching out to the airlines, according to "The New York Times." Last week, they held 30-minute conference calls with major airlines outlining how they could respond to passengers who may have concerns about flying on the Max again. For example, if a passenger realizes they're on a Max at the gate, Boeing is suggesting that agents rebook them on a different flight or even have the pilot come out to speak to them personally.

We reached out to Boeing on this and here's what they had to say, quote, "We routinely engage with our airline customers' communications teams to seek their feedback and brief them on our latest plans. Each airline is different in their needs, so we provide a wide range of documents and assistance that they can choose to use or tailor as they see fit" -- Abby and Alison.

PHILLIP: Thanks, Vanessa, for that.

An intense search in underway in southeastern Texas for a man who police say showed up at a party for his ex-girlfriend Carolee Dawn Taylor on Christmas Eve and shot her to death. They have identified the suspect as a 52-year-old Albert Benjamin Simon.


ED GONZALEZ, HARRIS COUNTY SHERIFF: He forced his way inside, grabbed her, ended up shooting her multiple times as she was pronounced deceased here at the scene. Left in a Jeep Cherokee and he's believed to be armed still.


PHILLIP: Deputies recovered a gun at the scene but Simon is still considered armed and dangerous. That's because they believe another weapon was also involved.

KOSIK: Horrific details coming to light in a fatal Christmas Day stabbing of a mother in front of her kids in Philadelphia. Police say her six children, ranging in age from 8 to 16, witnessed most of the incident. They say a 33-year-old man stabbed her inside their home, chased her outside and continued to attack. Police say the man believed to be the woman's current or former husband was standing over her when they arrived.


CHIEF INSPECTOR SCOTT SMALL, PHILADELPHIA POLICE DEPARTMENT: For this to happen early on Christmas morning, on a day that should be a family day, a peaceful day, it just makes it that much more hard to conceive.


KOSIK: CNN affiliate WPVI says the woman's 14-year-old son had multiple stab wounds to his thigh. The suspect was taken into custody.

PHILLIP: And two women claimed they were sexually assaulted on separate Frontier Airlines flights in 2016 and airline personnel failed to report it. In a federal suit filed in Colorado, the women alleged that the flight attendants did not request law enforcement to meet the plane upon landing and they didn't help them with getting the identities of the alleged attackers. Frontier Airlines in a statement says they cannot comment on the specific claims and sexual assault aboard passenger flights is a growing concern.


According to the FBI, the number of reported cases has increased at an alarming rate in 2018.

KOSIK: A police officer in Australia turns lifesaver and it's captured on video. Surveillance footage shows the couple rushing into a police station in Perth on Christmas Eve desperately asking for help. Their 8-month- old baby was choking on food and wasn't breathing. Enter Sargent Jason Lee. He grabbed the infant from the father, patting the baby on the back until the food dislodged. Afterward, he showed the parents what to do when an infant is choking.

PHILLIP: And an Indiana boy with autism was turned away by Santa and has -- but Christmas has come to him thanks to a local fire department. Tyler Burkhart's mom says he was rejected by a previous Santa and an elf over the weekend because they feared that the kids would be allergic to his service dog. Tyler's mom says he was upset but his Christmas turned out to be memorable.


ALYSSA BURKHART, TYLER'S MOTHER: The damage had already been done at that point and we had a very just crushed child. Beyond happiness. I cannot even tell you how just excited and just happy this makes us.


PHILLIP: Tyler was able to tour the fire truck and wear the gear. And the highlight for him was spraying the hose down the street. Naturally, Santa gave Tyler a toy fire truck as a gift.

I'm glad we're getting some good news stories here.

KOSIK: Absolutely. Here's another one. Consider it a Christmas gift from the universe to the world. A solar eclipse. Except you couldn't see this spectacle from North America but it was visible from parts of Indonesia, southern India, Oman and Saudi Arabia, and of course by watching EARLY START. Aren't you lucky? The next solar eclipse happening in June.

PHILLIP: It's just one senator but could Lisa Murkowski's criticism of Mitch McConnell be an ominous sign for Republicans ahead of the impeachment trial?